"The legacy of Governors Cuomo and Pataki, who between them served for an entire generation, is more difficult to discern." Not so. Cuomo presided over a big reduction in debt and pension burdens as a share of the income of New York City residents, resorting to short term fiscal irresponsibility only in response to a deep recession in an election year. Pataki was fiscally irresponsible in good times and bad on debt, and was in office for a pension disaster (that the Democrats carry a greater share of the blame for). Thus, the Pataki legacy will be determined by his successor -- higher taxes without associated spending, or diminished services without lower taxes. And don't say the MTA overbuilds. It hasn't done anything significant other than normal replacement to since the early 1960s, and is still deep in debt, thanks to the Governor. Pataki's most significant decisions were to cut state aid to New York City's schools, by a significant amount, in his first budget while substantially increasing state aid aid overall. This despite the fact that spending (as a share of personal income) staffing and pay were much lower in the city's schools than elsewhere in the state. He followed that with the STAR program, directed to better off school districts, which paid for a huge increase in spending there during the 1990s, allowing such school districts to outbid New York City for qualified teachers at a time when enrollments were rising and there was a teacher shortage. As a result of STAR, it is likely that when the next year's data is released total state education aid per child will be higher, on average, in the affluent Downstate Suburbs (Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Nassau, Suffolk) than in New York City, with its concentration of poor children. The latter are now worse off by about $1 billion per year than they would be if there was no state school aid, and all education resources were raised through local taxes (a la New Hampshire). There is nothing like this reverse Robin Hood situation anywhere else in the United States. It is what makes Pataki Pataki. In short, Pataki can put himself right in the mainstream of the one thing that binds the Republican Party -- diminishing the future through debt among other means -- along with Rockefeller, Lindsay, Reagan, Giuliani, Bush I, Bush II, and Whitman. And he can present himself as the next step in liberal conservatism. Whereas Sunbelters like Gingrich believed that the less well off should be left to sink or swim on their own with no assistance from those with advantages, Pataki and his Democratic "opponents" believed that the poors should be taxed and regulated to benefit those somewhat better off.
As always, your comments are reasonable and balanced. In the end, Pataki willingly submitted himself to serve the unions, as did most of the rest of the N.Y. GOP and Democrat incumbents, in exchange for their support. To accomplish reform in N.Y., one must take on at least some of the unions some of the time, and all of the gerrymandered incumbents all of the time.In that respect, his legacy is unremarkable in the annals of N.Y. state politics. Pataki placed incumbent protection at the top of his agenda, whatever the cost to taxpayers.Pataki's tax cuts were the right policy for a state hemmorhaging jobs and businesses. But he never got state expenditures under control by imposing effective transparency and accountability upon the most bloated state spending programs, including aid to public education and Medicaid. Given the powerful interest groups (principally unions) that benefit from the failure to impose accountability and transparency, this "neglect", including the lax oversight disclosed by the recent Medicaid scandal, likely was calculated. Going into debt to finance a war against Islamic extremists is one thing. Going into debt to pad union contracts and pensions is another matter entirely.In fairness to the governor, he wasn't alone in this folly. He had plenty of help from Spitzer (who now is fingerpointing for his failure to uncover the Medicaid scandal and bring the malefactors to justice) and both houses of the Legislature. Just call it the "culture of Albany" to which most of our political class unthinkingly subscribes.
Interesting column. I find your assessment of his freedom "to do whatever> he believes to be the right thing" (except when it impacts hisPresidential> aspirations) particularly timely given his announcement that he will veto> the morning after pill.
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